The Light at the End of Grief

Frost Weed. The light at the end of grief. Liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com
This is Frostweed. It flowers in the summer, then dries up. When the first freeze comes its stem bursts open with these beautiful ice formations for which it is named.

 

My husband’s chest rises and falls, the steadiness of his heart beating a few inches from my ear soothes me.  He asks me why I’m crying. I can’t answer.

 

I am overcome with my own brokenness.  Another month of my body betraying me, unwilling to conceive the baby we long for.  Exhaustion of years going at full speed, the strain of new relationships, not knowing which way to turn at the intersection or how to get to the grocery store.  Fear for my daughter, of the world that she will live in and the decisions she will have to make and my inability to protect her from its violence. And then there are the wounds left open from my childhood, or those self-inflicted from my years of wandering.

 

The tears flow.

 

To make them stop I think of those who are really suffering,  who have lost the ones they love, who are persecuted and enslaved.  My heart is grieved even more, I ache for the injustice the world.  And yet the fact that others are enduring terrible hardships doesn’t dull the pain in my own heart.

 

My grief is real.

 

I know there is such a thing as lingering too long over our hurts, like a dog, licking our wounds so fervently they can become open sores.   I’m not condoning this.

 

But I think more commonly our tendency is to go the other way.  To say, “Oh it’s all right,  there’s nothing else you can do, it’s really time to move on.”  To stuff our pain so deep that we don’t know it lingers and  eliminate any chance of sharing it, for our own benefit or for the sake of others.

 

Yet it occurs to me tonight that to forsake my own grief is to forsake my hope in a resurrected Christ.

 

When I tell myself that nothing is wrong  l turn a deaf ear to Christ’s comfortable words, to His singing over me.  When I strive  to feel no pain, I rely on myself.  When I let the pain of life penetrate my soul I make an opening for Christ to come in and heal it up again.

 

Grief drives me to hope.

 

Grief is my longing for God.

 

I don’t mean to say that on the other side of grief everything becomes easy. Scars remain and continue to shape us even haunt us.

 

But to deny grief is to reject a God who suffers with us.  Our grief is not wasted, it teaches us to live.  And so tonight tears flow, they are my prayer,  they are the sign of a life that longs for God and life in a resurrected world.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading friends,

 

Erica

 

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Eating in Innocence This morning's thoughts on violence and hope

Eating in innocence, thoughts on hope and violence, liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com

 

The world hasn’t changed to my daughter who blows bubbles in her milk and chews her buttery toast this morning.  Violence across the ocean means nothing to her.

 

She doesn’t know that we live in a dangerous world.  I could tell her, in fact I have told her, but she doesn’t understand.

 

She can’t fathom genocide, persecution or slavery.  She doesn’t know that while our biggest upset of the day is being late to preschool there are kids, just like her, begging for food, going to bed hungry, or that the very shoes on her feet were likely made by one of these kids, who instead playing lives in a factory and spends her days working with callused hands.   She hasn’t realized that if we had been born on the other side of the ocean our family would be a target simply by living the life we live, praying our prayers,  making the sign of the cross over our chests before dinner.  I can’t explain to her that even here there are no guarantees, that life changes fast and that security can disappear in a night.

 

She knows  affection,  peace, and help.  And the world she knows is also a true.  She is safe, she is loved, violence is not likely to come near.   She is surrounded with others who will protect her.  Life is beautiful, this world is hers to discover.

 

I’ll be honest, though I’m ashamed of it.  I gave in to fear.  Last night I sat up in bed trembling with fright.

 

It has only recently dawned on me how much my world feels falsely stable.  That simply because I have grown up in time and place with little violence it does not mean that violence has disappeared.  Stability can only be found in a moment.  If we look at every nation, overtime we see patterns of war and exploitation.  I shudder realizing that there are ever more places in the world where at this moment my life would be in danger for wearing around my neck the cross I was given at as a baby at my baptism.

 

My faith isn’t strong enough to  quiet my trembling.

 

I wish I had reason to believe that I will be spared the suffering that wrecks havoc on the world but I can’t find one that gives me assurance.   I hope for an end to violence, for an everlasting stability, yet I see that to expect this, in the light of the history of the world, is madness.

 

I am afraid.  Not so much for my own life but for my daughter’s, for the decisions she will have to make and for those choices she will never be allowed to have.

 

My only hope is that God loved the world enough to come and live with us, to suffer and die with us.  That He is alive and will restore all things.  If I am wrong I have nothing yet if I forsake Him I live without hope.

 

This morning we spread our butter on our toast with heavy hearts longing for justice.  And we pray to a God that hears us for a hope in Paris, in the middle east and for all the kids in the world who eat in innocence this morning.
Thanks for reading friends,

 

Erica

 

To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

A Mom’s Search for Vocation,
Reflections on St. Benedict

I woke up this morning still feeling tired. I grabbed my phone and started flipping through  Facebook, not because I wanted to read it, more because I was hoping the light and pictures would help wake me up. I heard my daughter, already awake, calling for me. I had missed any chance for solitude this morning. On to changing a wet pull-up, putting dishes away and dodging houseflies (we have a bit of an infestation unfortunately) as I try to get something on the table for breakfast. Zenie looks up at me,  “Mama, what are we going to do today?” And I know, because today is Monday, and every Monday we do the same things. The weeks blur together, I sip my tea, wishing I hadn’t given up coffee, and I wonder if we are accomplishing anything in this life.

For those of you following along with our reading group, we are spending the next four weeks on St. Benedict’s Rule. It is nothing more than a set of standards that Benedict laid out  for monks to live by 1,500 years ago. It may sound like an odd choice, most of us are not considering monastic orders. But, even so, this book is a challenge to us, at least to me. Reading it begs the question, Is there a rule that I live by? Is there anyone I am submitted to? What are my values and am I really living by them? Do I really think waking up and tuning into Facebook first thing in the morning is good for my soul? Then why am I doing it?

And really there is a bigger question that Benedict raises.  His Rule is clearly for monks. He goes into how monks should eat and sleep, what they should wear and how much wine they can drink. This book is for a people who know their vocation, their calling is clear. And while Benedict’s instructions, like to, “avoid talk leading to laughter,” are irrelevant to me ( I plan on laughing as much as I can and could use some more of it these days), what is essential is that I determine what I am called to.  What is the life God has for me and am I living it?   Before I can consider a rule of life I need to face the first challenge that Benedict’s book offers. What is my vocation?

When I first hear the word vocation, I think of high school. I was in college-prep classes and others were in the vocational program, learning cosmetology or auto-body repair, preparing for a career. But vocation isn’t synonymous with career. In fact, historically vocations, as the church understood them were, married life (pursing your faith within the context of marriage), single life (remaining intentionally single to pursue your faith), religious life (becoming a monk or nun) or ordained life (becoming a priest).  Nowadays most of us understand this word more broadly to mean, calling. It may be wrapped up with a career, but it isn’t only a career. God has a unique plan for each of us, there is a best path that we can take, and though it can be a challenge to figure this path out, God doesn’t keep it hidden from us. He wants us to find it. Finding our vocation let’s us become most completely ourselves, we live into who we were created to be in the fullest of ways.

I always thought I would be of best service to God as a stay at home mom of a big family, four or five kids at least ( I usually included in that plan a sweet house in the country with lots of cute baby animals).  And while I am beyond grateful for the one beautiful daughter God has given us, as each month passes without another pregnancy, it seems clear that my idea isn’t God’s. My husband’s job ended unexpectedly few months ago, we ended up moving on short notice and we found ourselves in  a new community, a great community, but a place where we had no roots, doing work that we had never expected, feeling like all of our gifts and talents were not being used. All of our hopes and dreams are swimming around in front of us doing nothing close to materializing.  We are left scratching our heads wondering, what is the purpose?  What are we doing here?

I know a little about this process of discernment. Mostly because it is ongoing and I’ve wrestled with it before.  There isn’t a final destination after all, except heaven and we are dead when we get there.  Instead it is a constant pursuit of  God and His best for me. I know it requires a willingness to let go of my own dreams. Though it seems impossible to forget my hopes of a family that fills up both sides of the dinner table, there is a choice to make.  I can either pursue my dreams my own way, and become bitter when I don’t get what I want.  Or I can trust that God has a given me dreams and the He will fulfill them in His way, and trust that His way is better.

Most of all right now I need to accept that this is where God has me. That I am a mother of one beautiful daughter, that I have a devoted husband and that we live in a really crummy rent house and are barely making ends meet. God knows it. My answer today to what is my vocation is answered, at least for today. It is to do the laundry and cook breakfast as if I was doing it for Jesus and it is to pray about the future and to wait. For each of us our days consist of real things, people, places, foods and houses. We can use these things to draw us and those around us nearer to God, or we can grumble and complain that it isn’t all we hoped it would be.

There is a calling for each of us.  For many it will come after much soul searching and wise counsel. And I do pray that God would lead our family on to something exciting and valuable, something that really made use of our gifts (and that He would do it soon, our lease is up in 2 months).  But in looking out to the future I can’t forget what is in front of me today. A beautiful girl with big brown eyes asking me what we are going to do today.

What is God calling you to, today or in the future? How can you tell? I’d love to hear your stories.

All Food is Divine Love
Made Edible and
Other Reasons Why I Cook

 

honey

My mom is a good cook but growing up we gave her a heck of a time. We called her meatloaf Buffalo Brains and pretended the Tuna Noodle Casserole was made of  worms.   We complained about burnt edges on grilled cheese sandwiches and gagged on the peas and carrots.

When I got married I was incredibly  fearful  about being treated the same way by my own children one day.  This fear is what motivated me to learn to cook (I wish I was making this up, both the part about Buffalo Brains, and the part about fear of being made fun of by kids that didn’t even exist yet, being a motivating factor in my life). I took the task seriously, and though I was in the trenches of medical school I began developing meal plans and recipes and learning some cooking basics.

Overtime my love for cooking has evolved into something so very distant from its fearful beginnings.  Unfortunately,  I can only describe it if I go into a discussion about the creation of the world. So if you don’t mind, humor me for a moment.

Do you ever stop and think about the reality that everything we have is made out of the dirt? I mean really,  God created the earth, essentially dirt, water and light and out of these basic things everything is made. Not just food, but every material, structure, and body has its origins in the dirt.

And this dirt doesn’t just produce one or two types of plants but rather an abundance of options. Thousands of plants and animals which are turned into a diversity of foods, offering different aromas, flavors and textures.  Not only does our food satisfy our biology, our physical need to eat, but food reminds us of who we are. Our foods carry our traditions from generation to generation.  Our foods give us a sense of place as they change from region to region and  they mark our seasons as they change throughout the year.  Eating is one of the most pleasurable experiences in life and (unlike sex or even a hot bubble bath for example) we would absolutely die if we couldn’t have it.

We all know that when a baby is born, it needs to be fed. And in most cases a mother produces milk to feed her baby. The milk isn’t the mom, but it was made out of her, and though she is completely separate from it, you can’t actually take her out of it, you can’t say this part of the milk is mom and this part is the other stuff.  It all has her mark, it is uniquely hers. And when her baby drinks this milk he is satisfied, nutritionally, yes, but he is also comforted.  His experience of drinking his mother’s milk is part of his experience of her. He can’t separate his love of his mother from his love of his milk.

Okay so you are wondering where I am going, I know. So this is how God speaks through His creation. Every tree, every plant, every person has His mark. Not that He is each bite of food, He is separate from it,  but there is a reminder of Him there. It is His creation. And not only did He create the foods but He also allows the ability to collect it, buy it, and cook it. With every bite we are reminded of God’s goodness, His comfort, His rich blessing over us.  We remember that He cares that we are a people who have a history, who have a time and a place. And just like a baby, the reality is we rely on Him for every bite.

When you sit down at my table you may still get grilled cheese with burnt edges and meatloaf that looks like Buffalo Brains (I’ve never actually seen Buffalo Brains, I’m not sure how we came up with it, probably my brother). Our meals can be as chaotic and disaster prone as anyone’s. But when we  share a meal together we are communing with the Living God. His creation is ministering to us, it is feeding us, our bodies and our souls. And as we gather we are revitalized, physically and spiritually.  We walk away full, reminded of His mercy and blessing.

So now I cook for this, so that you will know that God loves you and that you will be reminded that He has you here for a reason and that you are not forgotten by Him.

I hope that I have made you hungry. I’d love to hear your thoughts.